REAL-LIFE YOGA FOR REAL PEOPLE: Human body curved for functionality

2014-05-13T23:45:00Z REAL-LIFE YOGA FOR REAL PEOPLE: Human body curved for functionalityBy Elizabeth
Klarich For The Gazette
The Billings Gazette
May 13, 2014 11:45 pm  • 

We all know about the “plank.” Some of us love it, many despise it. It even caught on as a popular trend to plank in uncommon places, which affectionately came to be known as “planking.”

Regardless, most everyone heralds it as one of the best core strengthening exercises.

But what if we could modify the plank to get just as good of a core workout without ignoring the body’s natural curvatures?

Many workouts include practicing the plank exercise. Most of the descriptions on how to do the plank that are online, in books, and instructed in classes include a reference about making the body straight, like a plank board.

If the body was meant to be straight and was similar to wood, this would be an appropriate instruction. However, the body, most importantly the spine, is beautifully curved for functionality. Additionally, the body is made up mostly of water, so is meant to be fluid, not rigid like a board. Consequently, the Real Life Yoga name for this exercise — The Human Plank — is intended to recognize these alignment modifications.

To straighten the body, as is suggested in the common plank position, requires flattening the low back and locking the knees. These body positions are not functional for most people, so holding the body flat and straight like a plank for 30 seconds to several minutes results in going against biomechanically sound alignment. The spinal curves are necessary and need to be strengthened, not eliminated.

Flattening out the lumbar curve and locking the knees can actually imprint a slouched posture, which is the last thing any of us need! The ligaments and tendons that support the knees and the spine can be overstretched and strained when they are locked into a rigid straight position. There is not an activity or natural movement that the human body does which requires locked knees.

Try walking, running, cycling, climbing or doing anything with locked knees; it isn’t a functional position.

Some approaches to doing the plank pose demonstrate holding the position with straight arms, requiring a right angle at the wrist, thus putting most of the body’s weight on the wrists and toes. This can strain the wrist joints and put undue pressure on the shoulders.

Additionally, this positioning, ironically, disengages the deepest inner core muscles.

Repetition of this exercise can, over time, cause carpal tunnel, or shoulder, neck and back strain.

In addition to being safer and more biomechanically sound, The Human Plank is challenging and requires the use of more of the core muscles than the common plank pose. Try doing both exercises and compare for yourself. Remember, the body was meant to move, so holding any position, especially with stiffness and tension, is unnatural.

Mobility with stability is more valuable than rigid stamina. It’s best to practice The Human Plank and any exercise in moderation, so hold The Human Plank for just 1 to 3 SIP breaths while using PNF (isometrics) as a way to keep this exercise active.

The keys to The Human Plank are:

Keep the spinal curves intact.

Keep the knees slightly bent.

Keep the feet hips’ width apart.

Keep the forearms and elbows on the mat at shoulder width apart.

Keep the face relaxed.

Keep the shoulders down and away from the ears.

Keep the breastbone lifted toward the chin/pressed toward the floor.

Keep the hands in a starfish position and slightly turned outward.

Keep the SIP breath moving gently.

Keep the PNF (isometrics, contracting) pumping, especially the core.

Keeping the knees slightly bent and on the floor is the most supportive option. Hovering the slightly bent knees just an inch above the mat is a more challenging option. Even more difficult is to hover the bent knees, alternately tap right and left knees to the mat, then both knees simultaneously. Notice how the core work is enhanced when the knees never straighten.

Use the photos to learn The Human Plank and note the differences in the common plank versus the Real Life Yoga version. Check out my 1-minute video on Facebook and my website for more detailed instruction. Also, see how to do this exercise on my Community Education Television Channel 7 program.

Contact me about trying out a FitAlign class or scheduling a private session to get personal instruction on The Human Plank or any exercise routine. Also, I am offering a workshop in Big Fork on Saturday, June 14, at the beautiful montanabliss retreat center.

A strong core can enhance a strong will, confidence, and personal empowerment. The Human Plank provides a functional core strengthening exercise that stabilizes the joints and keeps the posture well aligned. Be fit, be aligned, and be happy.

Check out Elizabeth Klarich’s website, or email questions or comments to

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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